Dr. Joe Hoyle, a man I’d describe with this word, nominated it. It’s a strange world, however, where Howard Stern now gets that descriptor. Professor Hoyle wrote to me that he’d encountered that usage recently.
Stern has grown wiser from his “shock jock” days, and while retaining his keen sense of humor, he comes across in interviews as more the listener, the wise older man: the sort of fellow you’d not mind having as an uncle. And that’s our origin for “avuncular.” The OED gives its origin as the “Latin avunculus maternal uncle.” Other than an obsolete usage as a term for a pawn broker, our word has maintained its associations with uncles since the earliest recorded usage.
That’s modern, compared to many terms that appear here. It dates from the second quarter of the 19th Century. There may be an older usage; find a wise uncle and ask him. And if there is a comparable term for aunts, please let me know that as well. Professor Ted Bunn mentioned to me a 1982 column by the late William Safire, where the author polled erudite readers for a female equivalent of “avuncular.” “Amital” won the day, but as Safire’s colleague noted, it “sounds to me like a barbiturate.”
The results are funny, if you are well read and interested in such things.
Please nominate a word or metaphor useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.
image courtesy of MidCentArc at Flickr.